Keep your eyes on the prize! The prize being your customer's product colour preference.
A very interesting recount of a key product learning from within the buying office of a global fashion brand.
Having joined the brand in 2015, Casey, not her real name of course, shared with us this story which will hopefully be insightful in demonstrating just how game-changing colours can be as a key customer demand stat.
In this case, specifically the ideal level of colour investment in your product range, and how deviating too far from this valuable demand data meant a 20 point difference in sell-through for the brand.
We all know that losing 20 points in ST% really hurts, and for Casey and her team this resulted in walking away from the Summer 2015 season with a total collection sell thru % of 43%, a significant plunge from the prior season which sat at 63%.
All in a (Long) Day's Work
I distinctly remember the meeting in which we noticed the error, Casey recalls. We were sitting in the range sign off and it was around 4pm. It was our last brand review out of 3 for the day but it was our biggest brand. Needless to say a very important one. In hindsight we should probably have planned it better and begun with the largest brand because by that stage of the day we were all somewhat fatigued and not applying our minds as well as we might have liked to.
You know the drill in this industry, range review day equals a very long 12 hours in the boardroom, a roll of the dice delivered lunch and perhaps a 7-8pm close out to the day (if you're lucky!). But honestly we live for it, it was and still is one of my favourite parts of working in fashion, seeing the future ranges come together.
So we had run through the financials and the analysis packs and were onto looking through the samples of the Top 20 volume styles for that month.
One of the buyers held up the 3/4 sleeve white linen shirt and I realised it was the 4th white-based style we had seen as part of this top 20 already, and we were only on product 10. Naturally, the numerical side of me couldn't help but grab onto that data point: the fact that, so far, we were sitting at around 40% of styles being white ground within our top 10. Wow, that's high, I thought!
Being new to the brand, only having joined 3 months earlier, I was wondering if the colour contribution of white was in fact, that high as a norm?! Not wanting to derail the meeting, nor sound like I was unaware of this key statistic for my own area of responsibility, I decided to wait before questioning the plan.
The balance of the volume drivers were shown and I was now sitting at a tally of 7 out of 20 for white styles, therefore around 35%. This certainly seemed high to me, from experience I'd only ever seen a women's fashion label have anywhere from 5% to 30% in this colour, at the absolute most.
It was after 7pm, opening up a can of worms about colour balance right now would be unwelcome to say the least. I decided to refrain from questioning it in the public forum and rather wait until the morning to review it with my head of planning. This was for 2 reasons really. Firstly, to save myself from the glares I would attract from the entire team who had spent the last 2 weeks preparing for this review only to have a key investment strategy questioned at the last minute.
Secondly, I was confident that it would have been planned this way for a very valid reason. I simply needed to verify that in the morning when everyone was fresh-faced and on the early morning coffee high.
After raising it with the team the next morning, it turns out that the buyer's admin had resigned 3 weeks prior to the review and therefore no one had assigned colour attribution. Because of this, we weren't able to complete any colour analysis on the range, and to do this now (after the all-important Range Plan meeting) would have taken at least a day or two to complete. The reason it was such an undertaking is because of the very manual processes, on top of the significant changes that had come out of the meeting in terms of unit shifts, date changes, fabric and trim adjustments all to ensure the range was balanced.
Even suggesting that we revisit the numbers after the range had already been painstakingly finalised was met with the silence of disbelief by the entire team.
Even suggesting that we revisit the numbers ... was met with the silence of disbelief by the entire team
So we didn't do it.
If only I could have a redo! Boy oh boy did that peaceful colour come back to bite us.
As I anticipated, we then traded the season really poorly with loads of markdowns in white styles. I distinctly remember feeling this sense of regret daily during that season, hoping that there would be a shift in trends or ANYTHING to help us move this sea of white hanging in the stores.
At the end of the day, I wished I had said something when we were in the throws of the range plan meeting.
It was hard to shake the guilt of spending the business owner's money on such a costly error. Yes, Malcolm (the said business mogul) lived in a French chateau, but still we were the custodians of his fortune which was built by this business and the error was preventable!
I still cringe to this day when I see "all white" themed parties and wonder, where they were back when I needed them!? But every experience can be a teaching moment if you allow it.
But every experience can be a teaching moment if you allow it
Casey's Key Learnings
Don't be afraid to trust your gut - you know when something isn't right
Lean into your industry knowledge and experience, and leverage what you've learnt from past seasons and mistakes
Attributes are king - without detailed product attributes, how much do you really know about what is in your range?
Colour investment is more crucial than most people realise - we have to identify and accept what colours our customer actually purchases at full-price and invest accordingly
Improve the process - just because your ranging process is long and manual last season, doesn't mean it has to be this season. Identify the manual steps and automate wherever possible, there are so many tools to streamline fashion HQ's now. These costly errors and underlying problems are completely preventable so don't let manual work stand in the way of a profitable and successful season.
Improve the process - just because your ranging process was long and manual last season, doesn't mean it has to be this season
We were happy to hear that Casey and the team went on to align all future seasons to the ideal colour balance without a second thought as the entire business was well aware of the importance after Summer 15.
In our next piece, we look at The Fine Art of Price Pointing - because we all know pricing can greatly affect whether your customer will convert or not.